Madonna Buder, S.F.C.C. (born Marie Dorothy Buder on July 24, 1930), also known as the Iron Nun, is a Catholic religious sister and Senior Olympian triathlete. Buder has the current world record for the oldest person to ever finish an Ironman Triathlon, which she obtained at age 82 by finishing the Subaru Ironman Canada on August 26, 2012.
Buder has completed more than 340 triathlons, more than 45 of them Ironmans.
When Sister Madonna Buder needed a little extra oomph to complete her first Ironman World Championship triathlon in Hawaii, she predictably channeled the divine. “I thought of the finish line as the entrance to the final finish line, into the Pearly Gates,” she recalls. “That’s what drew me to [it].”
Sister Buder completed that race in 1985, at the age of 65. At 75, the American nun became the oldest woman to ever complete an Ironman triathlon. At 82, she set a world record as the oldest Ironman triathlon competitor. Today, at 86 years old, she has completed over 40 Ironman races, each comprising of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run.
Her steely resolve has earned her the epithet the “Iron Nun.” Along the way she’s had some setbacks — missing a race finish by a matter of seconds, multiple broken bones, wetsuit issues — but, she proclaims, “The only failure is not to try, because your effort in itself is a success.”
Sister Buder’s introduction to sport came just seven years before her first race in Hawaii, when she attended a workshop on the Oregon Coast that was led by a priest who championed running as a way to harmonize the mind, body and soul. Sister Buder took this creed to the extreme, burning out on the sport before discovering the variety of the triathlon. “That was the salvation,” she declares.
She attributes her physical endurance to listening to her body and maintaining a positive mindset.
“You carry your attitude with you,” Sister Buder elaborates. “You either achieve or you self-destruct. If you think positively, you can even turn a negative into a positive.” Along with this spiritual guidance, she imparts simple, yet easily applicable performance advice to younger athletes: “One step at a time makes a marathon.”
The Unlimited Youth film is the latest installment in the Nike “Unlimited” Campaign, which includes the Unlimited Courage film, Unlimited You film, the company’s recent series of athlete shorts and more, with more to come through the month of August. The campaign hails both the everyday athletes and the champion athletes who regularly push their limits — and who are poised to prove their unlimited potential this summer and beyond.
Unlimited Youth celebrates an extraordinary athlete, Sister Madonna Buder, and her determination to defy conventional conceptions of age.
In 2014, Buder was inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.
She decided to write a book named “The Grace to Race”, where she shares the no-nonsense spirit and deep faith that inspired her extraordinary journey from a prominent St. Louis family to a Catholic Convent and finally to championship finish lines all over the world.
The Grace to Race is the courageous story of a woman who broke with convention, followed her heart, and found her higher mission.